Fellowship program offers sergeants major a master’s degree in education

NCO Journal

Twenty sergeants major will soon have an opportunity to teach the next generation of sergeants major through a fellowship program at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, worth $27,000 per student. The one-year education program offers fellows a master’s degree in adult education from Pennsylvania State University and an additional three years’ service in the Army.

During the Army drawdown when job security is at a premium, the fellowship program offers an opportunity for qualified active-duty senior noncommissioned officers to become an ambassador of the Army in the classroom who will help to develop agile, adaptive and innovative leaders of the future. Though no specific career management field is sought, the cross-section of students will face an advanced curriculum to better professionalize senior NCO instructors in the classroom.

Under the fellowship program, 20 fellows will have one year to focus exclusively on completing a master’s degree in adult education, along with a couple of one-week certification courses to be an instructor. After fellows receive their master’s degree, they will perform three years as an instructor in the Sergeants Major Course.

“The world is more complex, and it gets more so every day. Part of what the Army wrestles with is just how complex,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA. “It really is hard to get ahead of what social media does. Drone use is getting to be where journalists will use it, maybe hovering over a battlefield watching what our Soldiers do real-time. … Add that to megacities that just go on forever, with huge tunnel systems and subways, and then adding cyber [security into the equation].

“We need to have critical, adaptive, agile thinkers as sergeants major, and that really starts with their whole career, not just the institutional education, but what they get out of their organization and self-development,” Defreese said. When they come here, our focus will be education and critical thinking. Our instructors have to be world-class.”

USASMA is undergoing a $6.5 million renovation to classrooms, which includes information technology upgrades.

“We’re putting a lot of money into continuing to keep us moving forward in the 21st century with technology and how people learn, so it only makes sense to couple the technology with the best instructors that we possibly can,” Defreese said.

Transforming education

Greenlighted by officials such as Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, and then-Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, and Institute for NCO Professional Development Director Aubrey Butts, Defreese said the fellowship program is a collaborative effort. The fellowship is part of Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Odierno’s commitment to transforming Army education. It

quickly went from an initiative, to a proposal, to an approved program in the span of six months.

“I briefed Gen. David G. Perkins [commanding general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] on this fellowship at the AUSA convention in October, and he said, ‘This is a no-brainer; I don’t know why we’re not already doing it,’” Defreese said.

“I served seven years as an instructor in the Sergeants Major Course in and out of uniform. … After I retired and became a contract instructor, I earned a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s in education,” said Sylvester Smith, director of Strategic Plans and manager of the fellowship program. “With all the skills I obtained from the education degree, I was able to be a much better instructor because I understood all the dynamics of education theory and other skills, and I was able to apply it in the classroom. It made me much better at my job. From my experience, I believe an education degree is the right choice.”

A new standard

Current guidelines do not include educational requirements for sergeant major instructors at USASMA, so it’s hit or miss on the level of instruction, Defreese said.

“The American Council of Education, or ACE, takes into consideration that we [at USASMA] don’t have a degree requirement for our instructors,” Defreese said. “We will, in the future, which will help students get their degrees quicker, besides [raising] the level of instruction [for students].”

It’s “hit or miss” on the level of education students receive because some sergeants major may not have an aptitude to teach, Defreese said.

“As the final selector for instructors coming [to USASMA], you don’t know it by a photo or by their records whether or not they even have the aptitude to teach,” he said. “They could be a great leader and just not have the aptitude.”

Though educational requirements are not necessary, most sergeants major have a significant amount of college by the time they have graduated from USASMA, and experience as senior leaders.

“As you get [new sergeant major instructors] through the fellowship program, they will be relevant and current with what’s going on in the Army,” Defreese said. “[The pool of instructors] will be fresher ─ a group that’s coming in with the experience and relevance [that is necessary for the job].”

“This is another way to make the skills consistent across the board by having an education degree,” Smith said. “It’s not just about getting a master’s degree; research shows that teachers with a background in education generally are better teachers than just those with the content knowledge, because we know not all math experts can teach math. … With a background in education, I was a much better instructor and understood my way around in the classroom. I understood how to transfer that knowledge on to the students with an education degree, so it’s about standardizing the type of education, and then built into that degree are the tools that [students] can use immediately and apply in the classroom when they get there.”

Savings for the Army

Not only does the fellowship program offer students advantages, it also helps save the Army money in moving costs.

“In most of the degree completion programs, the student would go off to the university regardless of where it is, and then once they would get their first assignment, then they would have to [leave] again,” Smith said. “[This program] saves the Army money ─ only one permanent change of station, or PCS, cost ─ and we have people here who can mentor and work with them through this program as they complete it in that year.”

With the current makeup of instructors at USASMA at two per classroom ─ one military and one civilian associate professor ─ the fellowship program will also save money through the eventual non-renewal of civilian instructor contracts, said Jesse McKinney, director of Human Resources at USASMA.

“We have a total of 67 green-suit sergeants major authorized to us for the Sergeant Major Course, of which when we have a full load, it’s 45 classrooms, 45 green suiters, 45 civilians,” he said. “We haven’t had a full load as of recently, but another point that we will be able to arrive at with this program is either reduction or elimination of the civilian contracts so that we can have all green suiters on our [teaching] platform.”

Plans also call for expanding the fellowship program to the Sergeants Major Nonresident Course, so that the curricula are the same as well as how they are instructed, Defreese said. Ultimately, the intent is that the program is a long-term solution to move education forward for senior-enlisted Soldiers.

“It’s 20 fellows a year going in starting the fellowship; 20 fellows each year will graduate. At the end of three years, I will have 60 sergeants major with master’s degrees in adult education,” Defreese said. “So at that point, I will have two master’s-level instructors in each classroom.”

Applications are due March 20. A panel will meet April 13-17 at Human Resources Command in Fort Knox, Ky., to produce an order-of-merit list of candidates. Defreese will make the final selections, which will be announced by April 30. Classes are set to begin Aug. 24.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t still expect our sergeants major to get down in the trenches with their Soldiers and get dirty, but we really want them to be critical thinkers and to be part of the solution for the future and not dead weight,” Defreese said. “We’ve got to keep up.

“General officers and senior NCOs across the Army are excited about this, extremely excited,” he said. “There is nobody I have talked to that thinks this is a bad idea.”

Meanwhile, USASMA at Fort Bliss lacks instructors for the coming year.

“We have to fill [20] seats in the fellowship and also our seats for the Sergeant Major Course for this coming year, so the folks who may be interested should consider applying up-front because they could at the end of the day receive orders to come to USASMA to be an instructor here anyway,” McKinney said.


How to apply for the fellowship program

Among the requirements, interested applicants of the Sergeants Major Academy Fellowship Program must be active Army sergeants major and must be able to complete full fellowship and utilization without interruption; possess a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher; and must be able to pass the Army physical fitness test and be U.S. citizens, according to military personnel, or MILPER, message 15-045.

Applications must be turned in by March 20 via e-mail to Joel D. Strout at Human Resources Command. Strout’s e-mail address is joel.d.strout.civ@mail.mil. The subject of the e-mail should be “Request to compete for the USASMA Fellowship Program.” Please refer to MILPER message 15-045 for the full contents of the application packet.

All education expenses for selected fellows, including the application fee, tuition and books, will be paid for by the Department of the Army.

NCO ‘backbone’ a force multiplier for Nepalese army

USARAK Public Affairs

Scores of junior-enlisted leaders enter the Sgt. 1st Class Christopher R. Brevard Noncommissioned Officer Academy on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for training and leading Soldiers.

What they might not expect is to share a classroom with soldiers from partnering nations from around the Pacific region.

What these visiting soldiers gained from the experience included invaluable training as well as strong bonds with their American counterparts.

Through the Regional Partnership Program, U.S. Army Alaska and its partnering nations — Northern Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Nepal, Australia, Guam and India — are able to take full advantage of a number of training opportunities that will help further cultivate these growing relationships.

Nepalese army rangers rush into an ambush during the Situational Training Exercise portion of the U.S. Army Alaska Warrior Leader Course with U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Air Force Airmen on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Photo by Justin Connaher)
Nepalese army rangers rush into an ambush during the Situational Training Exercise portion of the U.S. Army Alaska Warrior Leader Course with U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Air Force Airmen on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Photo by Justin Connaher)

Five noncommissioned officers from the Nepal army — Sgt. Basnet Jayaram, Sgt. Giri Upendra Lal, Cpl. Khadka Jeewan Kumar, Sgt. Shrestha Dilip Kumar and Cpl. Shrestha Mangal — attended the Warrior Leader Course on JBER to not only further develop their own leadership skills, but to use those skills to stand up their own NCO Academy in Nepal.

“These (courses) are my diamonds,” said Nepal Army Capt. Adhikari Bikash, Nepal Rangers Battalion. Bikash went through the training along with his NCOs, and he will oversee the training back in Nepal.

Once the Nepalese soldiers completed WLC, they moved on to the Foundation Instructor Facilitator Course. This weeklong course teaches students basic facilitation and instruction techniques, first through interactive multimedia instruction, second through lessons given in U.S. Army schools.

The class also allowed the Nepalese students to focus on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses prior to teaching a class back in Nepal. Bikash said that before FIFC, “We had no idea what our mannerisms were, we never thought about that.”

“It’s the soldiers who are going to benefit from you and your experience,” said 1st Sgt. Jennifer L. Myers, NCOA deputy commandant. “As an instructor, you are now the subject-matter experts.

People are going to come to you, (asking), ‘Hey, what’s the best way I should give a class?’ or ‘How can I conduct the training, how can I prepare for it?’”

Introduction of this newly-acquired training to the Nepal army will be gradual. An inaugural class will be given to the other instructors back in Nepal by the five NCOs who attended the course at JBER. If the class proves successful, it will be added to the curriculum.

“For our rangers, our main job is to ‘train the trainer,’” Bikash said. “It is a force multiplier for what we do over there.”

Nepal is currently the only partner nation that sends its soldiers to JBER for WLC. Maj. Gen. Michael H. Shields, U.S. Army Alaska commanding general, said the plan is to expand on these professional development opportunities after graduation, giving these soldiers more avenues upon which to put the skills they’ve learned into practice.

“What we’re trying to do is actually take it a step further, where their NCOs get to go through WLC, then embed with a unit here for further adaptation of those leadership skills, then send them north for the Northern Warfare Training Center experience,” Shields said.

“It will be a very valuable program once we get going. That probably won’t be until sometime in 2015,” he added.

These successful partnerships enable the U.S. to develop a greater appreciation for the unique cultures of each partnering nation, as well as an appreciation and understanding for the professionalism of their leadership.

A Nepalese soldier prepares for the land navigation portion of the U.S. Army Alaska Warrior Leader Course on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Photo by Justin Connaher)
A Nepalese soldier prepares for the land navigation portion of the U.S. Army Alaska Warrior Leader Course on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Photo by Justin Connaher)

“We saw a different aspect to training, different techniques other cultures use as a method,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Moore, Instructor Training Course instructor at the Academy.

Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Hyatt, also an ITC instructor, noted that the relationship-building aspect of student-instructor interaction here was a dynamic that the Nepalese students appreciated.

“If I need some help, (the instructors here) are ready to help,” Bikash said.

This unique training environment also comes with challenges, such as the language barrier.

“It takes you outside of your comfort zone,” Hyatt said. “You’re teaching not only to the American students but also the Nepalese. You’re training skill level one tasks while also trying to meet the intent of the lesson.”

The positive rapport between the Nepalese soldiers and their American classmates helped diminish some of those challenges.

“We are so proud to be over here and we feel lucky that our country has a good relationship with the U.S.,” Bikash said.

The multiple levels of partnership within USARAK also include humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief efforts. But Bikash said there may come a time when the U.S. and Nepal join forces for other purposes.

“(The U.S.) has been doing a lot outside the country to help keep the peace,” Bikash said. “One day we may find our two countries working side-by-side to keep the peace, so what we are doing here is a good start to that.”

Master Sgt. Jennifer K. Yancey currently serves as the noncommissioned officer in-charge of U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs Office at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. This is her eighth assignment in almost 19 years of active service.

Staff ride connects history to present-day battles for NCOs in Europe

By Staff Sgt. Clareyssa T. Hall
U.S. Army Europe

U.S. Army Europe has used its location — headquartered at Wiesbaden, Germany — to conduct leader-training using historical battles and the staff ride training model for years. For most of that time, staff rides were either conducted for units or senior leaders. Recently, however, Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr., USAREUR command sergeant major, and the USAREUR Military History Office took 21 junior NCOs and specialists to the area of the 1944 battles for the Siegfried Line and used the staff ride’s time-proven techniques to train the future leaders of the Army.

Staff rides, during which Soldiers study important battles while visiting the actual locations of those battles, are a unique and persuasive method of conveying the lessons of the past to present-day Army leadership. When properly conducted, this training experience brings to life, on the very terrain where historic encounters occurred, examples of leadership, tactics and strategy, communication, use of terrain and, above all, the mindset of men in battle. This historical study offers valuable opportunities to develop professional leadership. The staff ride concept is not only a training opportunity — it also paves the way for innovative, confident and competent leaders. In planning the first Junior Enlisted Soldier Staff Ride in USAREUR, Davenport understood just that.

The creation of the junior enlisted ride happened during a senior leader ride to Normandy, France, at the end of March 2014. During the last dinner of that event, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., hosted historians Andrew N. Morris and John A. Glover, along with Davenport. Together they discussed additional training possibilities, including the concept of conducting an “NCO ride.” As the plan was refined, Davenport chose to focus on junior NCOs to help build and empower junior leaders.

With the assistance of the USAREUR historians and other support staff, Davenport planned and executed the staff ride, maximizing professional development at every opportunity. The staff ride concept can be complex, and until this point had only been executed by officers.

A group of junior NCOs and specialists participate in a staff ride in the area of the 1944 battles for the Siegfried Line in Germany. (Photo by Sgt. Susan Noga)
A group of junior NCOs and specialists participate in a staff ride in the area of the 1944 battles for the Siegfried Line in Germany. (Photo by Sgt. Susan Noga)

Davenport selected Command Sgt. Maj. Wardell Jefferson, command sergeant major of the USAREUR Noncommissioned Officer Academy; Command Sgt. Maj. James J. Murrin, command sergeant major of the 7th Civil Support Command; and Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney J. Rhoades, command sergeant major of the 21st Theater Support Command, as senior mentors. Davenport also arranged for 21 specialists and sergeants – all of who were either Soldier or NCO of the Year candidates from across USAREUR – as participants. To emphasize that we are “one Army,” Davenport also assigned one Army Reserve Soldier to each group of Soldiers, exposing active duty Army Soldiers to the Army Reserve Soldiers and their career experiences.

While the junior leaders and senior mentors were being selected, the USAREUR historians were developing the study curriculum. The Soldiers and mentors who participated assigned to read, “The Siegfried Line Campaign,” by Charles B. MacDonald, the former deputy chief historian for the U.S. Army. The book detailed both sides of the famous battles, highlighting decisions that led to advancement as well as setbacks. Aachen, Germany, was the site selected for the staff ride. This location provided the facilities needed for the staff ride members to study, have breakout sessions and experience the challenging terrain, all of which allowed for an accurate remembrance of what the Soldiers in 1944 had to endure.

The study portion of the staff ride took place throughout August. Each group was divided into parts to study the infantry units of the battle, with one part focused on the experiences of the 9th Infantry Division in September 1944 in the Hürtgen Forest, one on the 1st Infantry Division’s capture of Aachen in October 1944, and one on the 28th Infantry Division’s attempt to take the town of Schmidt in November 1944. The study phase for this ride also consisted of guided readings, followed by three video teleconference sessions that outlined how the staff ride would be conducted, what the expectations were for each participant, and, using a Fort Leavenworth Battle Analysis outline, briefings on each unit’s role in the battle.

The preliminary study phase of the staff ride ended in August, giving way to the field study phase in September. The intent of the field study phase was to visit the significant sites of the Siegfried Line Campaign emphasized during the preliminary study. As only a portion of the field locations could be visited, the instructor team of Davenport, senior mentors and the historians summarized what occurred elsewhere so that students were able to comprehend the entire campaign.

The route through the sites was taken in the chronological order of the campaign so the Soldiers and mentors could discuss events as they unfolded. Each planned stop was called a stand, and each stand was selected for historical significance, visual impact, and logistical necessity. A few of the Soldiers studied topics beyond the level of general background knowledge, so the stops provided opportunities for the staff ride members to share their findings and stimulate discussion.

Day 0 of the USAREUR Junior Enlisted Staff Ride field study started out with all members taking a bus ride to a hotel in Zweifall, Germany, near Aachen. At the hotel, the Soldiers and mentors prepared and refined their presentations within their respective groups for their stand presentations the next day. All previous meetings and briefings between the groups were conducted through VTC, so Day 0 gave the Soldiers and mentors a chance to combine efforts to make their briefs a memorable learning experience.

Day 1 started at the point where the VII Corps crossed into Germany in September 1944, near the town of Schmidthof, in the military-identified Stolberg Corridor. After viewing the remains of the West Wall, the group traveled to Schevenhutte, where Group A introduced the 9th Infantry Division’s actions. The stand was at the site where the 47th Infantry Regiment encountered the lead elements of the German 12th Infantry Division. Throughout the day, Group A discussed observation and fields of fire, avenues of approach, key terrain, obstacles and cover and concealment (OAKOC) from the German perspective, plus the vehicles used and the Soldiers’ morale. The group also discussed advancement across the battle space and how they would do things differently or keep them the same. One of the most important topics discussed was building strong bonds before you go to war and how to maintain those relationships in war. Davenport and the senior mentors stressed the importance of reconnaissance and rehearsals at every stand.

Day 1 ended in a conference, with participants recapping the events of the day, lessons learned and how those lessons can be applied today. A short after action review (AAR) session concluded the evening. An AAR and review session was conducted each night so that improvements could be made immediately.

Day 2 began with a walk along the Weisserweh, a small creek that the 9th Infantry Division attacked across in early October 1944, while attempting to get to the town of Schmidt. This allowed the Soldiers to see the remains of a company rear area, and get a feel for the steep terrain and harsh tree cover. The afternoon switched to the experiences of the 1st Infantry Division as they fought to isolate and then take the city of Aachen. There were three stands on the second day, where Group B discussed OAKOC and the mission variables of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC), and how difficult it is to advance in battle when your enemy knows how you fight. Davenport brought up the topic of integrating Soldiers in a unit and how that affects how a unit fights a war. Many Soldiers gave examples of how they would integrate a Soldier into their unit if they were a team leader or squad leader. The comments marked a turning point in the staff ride, as Soldiers became more vocal from this point forward.

Day 2 ended with an AAR seminar and dinner, highlighted by the attendance of the former USAREUR Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Campbell, retired. The Soldiers appreciated that senior leadership took the time to mentor them and being available for candid conversation to enhance their professional development. Campbell discussed his priorities with the staff ride members and solicited support and feedback from the junior Soldiers.

Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. (second from left), USAREUR command sergeant major, leads a group of junior NCOs and specialists on a staff ride in the area of the 1944 battles for the Siegfried Line in Germany. (Photo by Sgt. Susan Noga)
Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. (second from left), USAREUR command sergeant major, leads a group of junior NCOs and specialists on a staff ride in the area of the 1944 battles for the Siegfried Line in Germany. (Photo by Sgt. Susan Noga)

Day 3 started with a trip to the town of Vossenack for the beginning of the November attacks by the 28th Infantry Division to take Schmidt. The walk followed the Kall Trail down a steep, narrow path across the Kall River and up to the town of Komerscheid. Along the way, discussion topics were overcoming difficult terrain, medical issues, rear area security and leadership under extremely difficult conditions. During the last stand, Davenport expressed the importance of being knowledgeable, comfortable and available as a leader. Soldiers must be knowledgeable about their skill sets, be comfortable talking with their Soldiers and be available for their Soldiers to come to you with any problem, Davenport said. Soldiers gave personal accounts on how they would show genuine care for their Soldiers. Day 3 concluded with a final AAR and an award presentation for Soldiers before heading back to their home stations.

The Seven Army Values were discussed at every stand. During the presentations, general knowledge was addressed, as well as how important it is for senior mentors to discuss the foundation of Army principles. Jefferson discussed how Army values are an integral part of the curriculum at the USAREUR Noncommissioned Officer Academy.

“It’s important to address the Army values in our daily discussions with Soldiers,” Jefferson said. “We conduct values-based Physical Readiness Training (PRT) at the NCO Academy. Every three days, we discuss a different value, and the culmination is a discussion right after the cool-down for the Thursday morning PRT session. Having discussions like these with our Soldiers increases the probability of them learning and living the values.”

Davenport said Army leadership asks junior Soldiers to memorize an abundance of information for promotions boards, Soldier of the Month Boards and NCO boards, but that the Army lacks the hands-on training in showing Soldiers the significance of their study. This enlisted staff ride provided a foundation to understanding land navigation, pre-combat checks (PCCs) and pre-combat inspections (PCI), reconnaissance, rehearsals, nine line medevac, call for fire, The Soldiers Creed and the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer.

Building and empowering junior leaders was one of the overarching themes of the staff ride, and judging by the final AAR comments, that goal was achieved. All Soldiers said they would recommend the opportunity to their peers and subordinates because it improved their leadership style. Another goal of the staff ride was for the Soldiers to take the lessons of the past and apply them to future strategic battle planning. Another unique aspect of the staff ride is that the Soldiers played the role of team leader, squad leader and even officer ranks as they gave their briefings at each stand, explaining how they would have made decisions based on each rank.

The USAREUR Junior Enlisted Staff ride was an overwhelming success and marked a turning point in the lives of 21 Soldiers. They will remember this experience long after their military career has ended. Walking the trails, hills and rugged terrain of the Soldiers who fought in 1944 made each Soldier realize the importance of a team effort and why training must be executed to standard. Repetition in training leads to confidence, and confidence leads to mastery. This staff ride empowered competent and confident junior leaders and set the stage for additional training opportunities on talent management and contributed to the life-long learning of the Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Clareyssa T. Hall assumed her duties as a Foreign Area Noncommissioned Officer at U.S. Army Europe; Office of Command Sergeant Major; Strategic Initiative Group in July 2014. She is a 35F Intelligence Analyst.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta contributed to this article.

Army Learning Model changes drill sergeant training

Army News Service

Feedback from the field regarding the Army Drill Sergeant Academy’s change in August 2014 to Army Learning Model training is positive, said Sgt. Maj. Ed Roderiques, the academy’s deputy commandant.

Army Learning Model is the informal name given to “The Army Learning Concept for 2015,” Pamphlet 525-8-2, published by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, and intended for implementation Army-wide.

The academy, located at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, uses drill sergeant leaders to train drill sergeant candidates who, in turn, train recruits at one of the Army’s four training centers, located at Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Jackson and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The academy also uses the new training model to train platoon sergeant candidates, tasked with follow-on advanced individual training, following basic combat training.

Ever since 1964, when the Drill Sergeant Program was established, legions of drill sergeants have received their training at Fort Jackson.

“Anyone who has been through the [program] can tell you war stories about snapping to and being reminded what it’s like to be a private again,” Roderiques said. “And, it was pretty much like that the whole way through. We were graduating really, really good privates.”

Then last summer, “we flipped the switch to that approach,” Roderiques said, meaning that academy’s commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian, implemented the new training approach.

Under the Army Learning Model, drill sergeant candidates are put more in charge of their own training. Previously drill sergeant leaders took on the role of drill sergeants and the candidates took on the role of privates, Roderiques said.

Candidates are now given more responsibilities for planning, coordination, resourcing and execution their own training. The role of leaders emphasizes facilitating and mentoring, Roderiques said, providing an example using physical readiness training.

Previously, one candidate at a time led training from the platform, while the candidates executed the exercises, he said.

Now, the candidates take turns on the platform. Each takes a turn leading the exercises on the platform, while other candidates on the ground take turns evaluating each other and offering spot corrections as needed, Roderiques said.

After candidates receive relevant training instructions, they are expected to lead and assess, doing the tasks once done only by the drill sergeant leaders. “The difference is the candidates acting as assistant instructors in making on-the-spot correction in the ranks of the other candidates,” Roderiques said.

Another example involves training at the rifle range, he said. Besides running the candidates through the marksmanship training and re-teaching them basic concepts such as trigger control and sight pictures, they are also given higher-order training processes as well.

Drill sergeant candidates from the active component Army, Army Reserve and National Guard receive on-the-spot corrections from Staff Sgt. Logan Robbins, a drill sergeant leader, on "zero day" at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)
Drill sergeant candidates from the active component Army, Army Reserve and National Guard receive on-the-spot corrections from Staff Sgt. Logan Robbins, a drill sergeant leader, on “zero day” at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)

For a drill sergeant, teaching new Soldiers to shoot involves more than just hands-on training with a rifle. Drill sergeants must understand the details of such things as safely opening and executing a range training operation, range logistics and resourcing, risk management, first aid requirements, and concurrent training.

“By the time they graduate and get down to the trail, not everything is brand new to them,” Roderiques said. Trail is jargon for the time drill sergeants spend training recruits.

The candidates “didn’t just observe training from a slide, or from part of a larger group, they’ve actually put their hands on it,” he said. “They’ve developed muscle memory and they have a better handle on things.”

The new training approach is especially helpful to noncommissioned officers who come from lower-density military occupational specialties who may not have ever had the opportunity to stand in front of large formations during their time as leaders prior to coming to the academy, Roderiques said.

For example, electronic repair technicians may work in shops with two or three other Soldiers.

“They may have been masters of systems, but they might not be comfortable standing in front of a formation,” Roderiques said. “We get them there. We get them to the comfort level where they can project some presence in front of those Soldiers.”

While the Army Learning Model may have changed the approach to training, the program of instruction, or POI, remains essentially the same, he said. Even so, the POI is updated on a continuing basis as relevant Soldier competencies are validated by the Proponent Development and Integration Division, a TRADOC entity.

Roderiques said he has an appreciation for the role doctrine plays in training requirements, especially since he’s had a recent tour of duty at TRADOC headquarters on Fort Eustis, Virginia. He also has seen the positive changes brought about since he was a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood from 1994 to 1996.

Among the positive changes he said he’s seen is creation of a safer and more secure environment for all recruits, especially females. Roderiques became a drill sergeant in year-two of gender-integrated training.

Lastly, Roderiques said there are openings for drill sergeants if anyone is interested. Besides special duty pay and increasing the chance for promotion, he said the experience itself is priceless.

Drill sergeants train America’s finest fighting men and women, he said. Soldiers remember their drill sergeants, “I certainly do mine. And, I’m sure Soldiers remember me.”

Barrier broken with combat engineer company’s female 1st sergeant

EDITOR’S NOTE: 1st Sgt. Raquel Steckman is the first female combat engineer senior sergeant (12Z qualified) in the Army appointed to a Sapper Company as a first sergeant. A sapper company is filled with combat engineer Soldiers (12B) whose entire mission is combat-focused. They are the equivalent of light infantrymen in their function, but with expertise in explosives.

Our initial story said Steckman was the first female first sergeant across all combat engineer companies. There are other engineer companies with 12B Soldiers in the Army, and it was brought to our attention at least one female first sergeant was appointed to such a unit. However, no previous female first sergeant was qualified as a 12Z, which is a requirement for the position.

416th Theater Engineer Command

She took charge of the formation for her first time since joining the unit. There was no fanfare. There were no pink balloons or colorful streamers announcing her arrival.

“Receive the report,” 1st Sgt. Raquel Steckman ordered the company.

Each platoon sergeant did, taking accountability of Soldiers among their ranks.

They reported back to Steckman: the first woman in the Army appointed as a sapper company first sergeant while qualified as a combat engineer senior sergeant (12Z).

A sapper company is the engineer equivalent to a light infantry unit, where engineers have a combat-focused mission with expertise in explosives.

But for her, being a woman is irrelevant. When the topic is brought up, she laughs it off entirely.

“I just don’t think it’s a big deal. Why do you have to point out that I’m a freaking female? I’m trying to do a job here. It just blows my mind,” said Steckman, now with the 374th Engineer Company (Sapper), an Army Reserve unit located in Concord, California.

Being a female first sergeant, after all, is not such a monumental occasion. There have been plenty of them before Steckman around the Army, and plenty others who served as commanders and command sergeants major. Ranger school has recently opened to females, and more than 40 women have graduated the elite sapper training since 1999.

“Gender or race have no impact on how well (Soldiers) will perform a task,” Steckman said.

So, end of story. Stop the press.

Except her appointment marks another barrier breached in the integration process of women in combat units. There are more than 20,500 combat engineers across the Army, and currently none of them are women. The position is expected to open to females once a congressional notification from the Secretary of Defense makes it official. It will become one of 14 combat-specific military occupational specialties (MOS) that have been exclusive to males until now.

First Sgt. Raquel Steckman works on an operations order for a coming demolition range for the Army Reserve 374th Engineer Company (Sapper), headquartered in Concord, California. Steckman is the first woman in the Army appointed to a combat engineer company as a first sergeant. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
First Sgt. Raquel Steckman works on an operations order for a coming demolition range for the Army Reserve 374th Engineer Company (Sapper), headquartered in Concord, California. Steckman is the first woman in the Army appointed to a combat engineer company as a first sergeant. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

Steckman became eligible for this position because she joined the Army as a bridge crew member. Soldiers in her MOS train alongside combat engineers frequently, even as early as basic combat training. Combat engineers (12B) and bridge crew members (12C) both feed into the same leadership role: combat engineer senior sergeant (12Z). Only five women in the Army currently hold that position. All five are in the Army Reserve.

Being an Army Reserve unit doesn’t make these combat engineers any less “manly.” They talk about 12-mile ruck marches, bivouacking and 5-mile runs like it’s their everyday life. During formation, platoons compete against each other.

They each appoint a Soldier to disassemble and reassemble an M240 machine gun to see who can do it fastest. Their Army jobs revolve around explosives, blowing stuff up.

However, both Steckman and her company commander have said that being an Army Reserve unit in the Bay Area, just an hour north of San Francisco, made this appointment an easy transition. That’s why for Steckman, this “female thing” isn’t such a big deal for her Soldiers.

“Their whole life isn’t focused on (their Army job). They leave. They go home and they do other jobs. So their spectrum is much broader . The reason why it’s different in the Reserve is because those guys go to civilian jobs, where they interact with females all the time,” Steckman said.

Steckman doesn’t ask herself what her role is as a “female” first sergeant. Her focus is on the job, not the gender.

“I’m constantly asking: What does a first sergeant do? They always say beans and bullets, so (my) responsibility is to make sure the Soldiers are taken care of as far as training, vehicles and their well being,” she said.

Steckman has wanted to serve in the military for as long as she remembers.

“My dad’s favorite picture of me is where I’m wearing a purple one-piece swimsuit and my curly long hair sticking out from underneath my grandfather’s sailor’s hat, saluting. It’s his favorite picture. Carries it around with him still,” said Steckman, who grew up in Eben Junction in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

She wanted to join the Marine Corps at 17, but her parents wouldn’t sign the paperwork. Instead, she joined the Army Reserve in 1998. She became one of the first female bridge crew members, which had opened up to women a few years prior. She fell in love with the job, learning to operate boats as a private.

“We went out on the water, and they said, ‘Sure let’s see how you do on the boat.’ And they say you either get it or you don’t. You either can operate or you can’t. And I loved it . I freaking loved it,” she said.

From there, she grew in the ranks, eventually joining the Active Guard Reserve program and served as the operations sergeant at the company and battalion levels. Her office is decorated with awards, plaques and coins she collected from each unit or school she attended.

One multi-role bridge (MRB) company presented her with a red-haired Barbie dressed in a GI Joe uniform holding a plastic rifle. The Barbie is mounted to a wooden base with a plaque thanking her for her dedication and service. Her most prized award is a paddle from the 652nd Engineer Company (MRB), from Hammond, Wisconsin, where she spent 12 years.

When she graduated from her senior combat engineer course in North Dakota, she received two coins: one for making the commandant list, and the other for being the first female to graduate the course.

“I was actually pissed off they gave me a coin for being a female,” she said.

First Sgt. Raquel Steckman salutes her platoon sergeants with the 374th Engineer Company (Sapper), headquartered in Concord, Calif., during formation. Steckman is the first female in the Army appointed to a combat engineer unit as a first sergeant. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
First Sgt. Raquel Steckman salutes her platoon sergeants with the 374th Engineer Company (Sapper), headquartered in Concord, Calif., during formation. Steckman is the first female in the Army appointed to a combat engineer unit as a first sergeant. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

There’s no malice or resentment in her voice when she said this. She’s not an “angry” woman, or a “bossy” woman. She doesn’t see herself as having something to prove. She’s just a Soldier in uniform.

“I just. I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to fly under the radar and just be. I never wanted to be the center of attention,” she said.

Interestingly, Steckman isn’t the first woman to join the 374th Engineer Company. There are four other females in the unit already, all holding non-combat positions: Two are medics, one a mechanic and one a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist.

When asked, they don’t make a big hoopla over having a female first sergeant.

“I was thinking about this. It’s not about us,” said Staff Sgt. Katherine Goodwin. “It’s about all the women who had to deal with not being accepted and having to fight for their rights to do their jobs. We’re just here. We’re doing what we could have done all along. But somebody 20 years ago had to bust their ass. There’s been nurses and medics getting killed that are female that weren’t given the same opportunities that are now being given to us.”

She doesn’t have to look far to see this reality.

Her fellow medic, Staff Sgt. Melissa Ruggieri, is now 38 years old. She said that 10 or 15 years ago, she was in the best shape of her life, but she was never afforded the opportunities some of the women are granted today.

She spent six years in active duty. She remembers a moment when she was about to pick up a combat litter during a training event, and a male Soldier cut her off. He grabbed the litter before she could. As though she were too fragile, and she might break from carrying her own share of the weight.

For much of their Army lives, they’ve seen female Soldiers treated as liabilities instead of assets. But now, things are changing.

“I wanted to be able to test myself, and see how far I could go (but wasn’t allowed). I’m so happy for the females that are coming in that are able to test themselves to the limit. To go for it. Unfettered. It’s gotta be amazing,” Ruggieri said.

Being a Soldier doesn’t mean they have to stop being feminine.

Steckman’s face lights up when talking about her two children. Her motherly affection becomes evident in her eyes. She’s been married five years to a man whom she considers a mentor. He is also a first sergeant, but with the Wisconsin National Guard.

Sometimes, when he opens the door for her, she playfully steps back so he can go through it first.

“I’m opening it for you,” he would object. “Ever heard of chivalry?”

“I don’t know what that is. I’m a Soldier,” she would rebut, jokingly. “But he’s always treating me like a lady.”